Breaking habits is one of the most challenging undertakings a human being can ever confront. We are creatures of habit and familiarity is how we keep ourselves safe, no matter how toxic that safety net may be. Habits are repetitive modes of behavior where the participant is not fully engaged in the act he or she is participating in. It is mindless and mundane. Ritual, on the other hand, is a mindful undertaking where the participant immerses herself in the experience and infuses that experience with meaning and devotion.
Habits disconnect us from the present and offer opportunities for escapism, whilst rituals weave our souls into a continuum of creation - extending our reach into the palms of our ancestors in ways escapism never can. Rituals are spiritual reminders of who we are, where we are going, and why we must go there. Rituals connect us to our culture (whether inherited or consciously created) and are our portals to healing.
So how do you transform a hard to break habit into a ritual? Let's use coffee drinking as an example. A ritual would be that every morning, you wake up and do a few minutes of yoga, stretching or meditation. You then brew the most deliciously fragrant grounds and breathe deeply in gratitude as the aroma permeates your entire environment. You sweeten it perfectly. It has just the right amount of milk. Or, if you prefer, it is perfectly, robustly black. However you most enjoy it, you find that one place available to you where you can sit and fully experience the bitter bliss that drips down your throat. The warmth of your favorite cup in your hands, the heavenly scent wafting up into your nostrils causing you to sigh with delight, the breeze, the sight of your dog wondering why he can't have a sip. Every sense is entertained. Your presence in the present is what turns an ordinary, thoughtless moment into a ritual.
Now the habit of drinking coffee looks much different: You wake up groggy and aimless. There is no thought or intention on what disposition you would like to try on for the day. Your only intention is to make your eyes grow a little bigger and shake off the sleep entangled in your lashes. You turn the coffee pot on, briefly take in the familiar smell before you rush off to get the rest of yourself together. You drink your first cup while you iron your pants and text your girlfriend. You pour a second cup into a to-go mug so that you can "enjoy" it on your drive to work since you totally missed experiencing the first cup. And chances are, you will have another once you get to work just because that's how you settle in; that's how you do it every day. You don't know any other way. You don't even consider any other way because you don't believe you have the capacity to change how you experience your life. There is no thought, no true reverence for the earth from whence those coffee beans came. Or for the people who grew them. Or for the pleasure a simple cup can bring if only we show up undistracted and aware. All of that mindless ingesting of coffee becomes a poison to the body. Habits kill us. Rituals save us. It is not about giving up the "bad habit" of coffee, but instead about enjoying your perfect cup down to the last drop with fully embodied mindfulness. Then and only then can you experience the medicinal properties of coffee. Then and only then will you be able to dismantle addictions and see that what addictions really are are mindless and repetitive habits. Mindfulness is what will free you. Mindfulness is what will turn a bad habit into a sacred ritual if only you allow yourself to show up for your own life and experience it with all of your senses. The magic, the healing, the freedom is in imbuing habits with meaning, thereby creating rituals. Try this with one habit you find difficult to break and let me know how it goes...